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CHA P. II.
INSPIRED BOOKS. -APOCRYPHAL BOOKS.
HAVING fixed the fenfe, in which we affert that certain writings are infpired, we proceed to ascertain what these writings are. Many books have appeared in the world claiming a heavenly original; and there are many books, which, though they advance no fuch claim, contain nothing but the pure doctrines, and holy precepts of religion. Yet among all thefe, we afcribe inspiration to thofe alone, which are commonly called the Scriptures of the Old and New Teftament; the first of thefe collections beginning with Genefis, and ending with Malachi; the fecond beginning with Matthew, and ending with the Revelation.
But why, it may be asked, do we acknowledge these books, and thefe alone, to be divinely infpired? Why from a multitude of claimants do we felect certain individuals, and allow them the ex
clufive poffeffion of that authority, to which all make equal pretenfions? The only anfwer, which, in this stage of our enquiry, it is neceffary to give, is, that no other books have been handed down to us as inspired by the church, of whose duty it is an effential part, to point out to the observation of mankind, that genuine revelation, which hath been committed to her care. We deny, indeed, that the authority of the Scriptures depends on her teftimony; but as they were entrusted to her as a facred depofit, we confider her teftimony as furnishing a ftrong argument in favour of their infpiration. The ancient church undoubtedly obferved what books were delivered to her by prophets and apoftles; and as we have no reafon to think, that the fuffered herfelf to be deceived, fo there is no ground to fufpect any defign, on her part, to impose upon us *.
*We find Cyril of Jerufalem directing thofe, to whom he addreffed his catachetical discourses, to learn from the church the inspired books, as diftinguished from the apocryphal. Καὶ φιλομαθῶς επίγνωθι παρά της εκκλησίας, ποῖαι μέν εισιν αι της παλαιάς διαθήκης βιβλοι, ποῖαι δέ της καινής και και μηδέν των αποκρύφων αναγίνωσκε. Cyril. Catachef. IV.
I shall separately confider the grounds, on which we receive that precife number of books, which the Old and the New Teftament contain.
On looking into the decrees of councils, and the writings of the fathers, we find that the books, at prefent known under the general title of the New Teftament, are the only books, of which the divine authority was acknowledged by thofe, who living near the age of the writers, had the best means of afcertaining their original; the only books which were admitted by the church, as canonical. This point hath been fully proved by learned men, who have undertaken to illuftrate the subject, by quotations from the ancient Chriftian records.
There is no reafon to fufpect, that the Chri ftians, in the early ages, were careless in an affair of fuch magnitude, and received books into the canon, or rejected them at hazard. Whether the Scriptures of the New Testament were infpired or not, their infpiration was by them univerfally believed. They regarded them as the oracles of heaven, by which they were bound to regulate all their opinions and practices in religion; and on which they founded all their hopes
of future felicity. The rejection of a fingle infpired book, and the reception of a forged one, would have equally expofed them, in their own apprehenfion, to eternal damnation. Their circumftances too were peculiar, and contributed to render them cautious and exact in examining the Scriptures. Their attachment to the religion of Christ expofed them to incredible hardships and fufferings. But as no man will voluntarily fubject himself to pains and loffes, without the hope of a recompenfe; and as their expectations could only be realized, if the religion was true, and their ideas of it were juft, we may be affured, that they exercised the utmost care in distinguishing the genuine records of it from all fuch as were forged.
. While thefe confiderations make it highly probable, that the canon of the New Teftament was not fettled at random, but was framed in confequence of prudent and diligent investigation, we are able to produce fome facts, which fully eftablish this conclufion. We.know, that in the early ages, there were many gofpels, and acts, and epiftles, and revelations, besides those which we at prefent receive, claiming to have been written
by infpiration; fuch as the acts of Paul, the gofpels of Peter and Thomas, the epiftle of Barnabas, and the revelation of Peter, with many others, too tedious to be mentioned. We know likewise, that the authority of a few of the books, which we believe to be inspired, was called in question by fome; as the epiftles of James and Jude, the fecond epistle of Peter, the fecond and third epiftle of John, the Revelation, and the epistle to the Hebrews, because no name being prefixed to it, the writer was uncertain *. But these facts, instead of begetting any fufpicion in our minds, with refpect to our prefent Scriptures,
*Eufeb. Hift. Lib. iii. cap. 25. In that chapter, Eufebius takes notice of three claffes, or orders of books; those which were univerfally acknowledged; thofe which were called in question by fome, though received by many; and those which were manifeftly fpurious. When enumerating the books, whose authority was disputed, he does not mention the epistle to the Hebrews; but we learn from the third chapter of the same book, that fome rejected it, from the notion that it was not written by Paul. He points out three marks, by which the fpurious wri tings might be distinguished from those which were truly inspired. There are the Ayle, ο της φράσεως χαρακτηρ; the fentiment,
v; and the purpose or scope of the matter contained in them, ἡ τῶν ἐν ἁυτοῖς φερόμενων προαίρεσις.